The Phonix Suns are one win away from making it to their third straight Western Conference Semi-Finals. Phoenix has the opportunity to close out this opening series against the Clippers tonight at home, and we’ll preview the game before going over why I’ll be targeting a first-half play in this one.
It looks like it could be another postseason that we are left wondering what the Clippers could have done if everyone stayed remotely healthy as they come into tonight down 3-1 and without Kawhi Leonard for the third straight game. In the two games they have played without Leonard this series, LA has a NET rating of (-8.5) which is ranked 13th out of 16 playoff teams in that span.
Offensively in those two games, LA is 8th in offensive efficiency rating, but they are fresh off their worst offensive performance of the series, as they scored just 100 points and shot 43% from the field and 32% from deep. One bad shooting night in a series will happen, but the lack of defense and rebounding has been glaring in Leonard’s absence.
In the two games without Leonard, the Clippers have the worst defensive efficiency rating amongst playoff teams at 120.5. They also have the second-lowest rebounding percentage in that stretch as well, which led to them allowing an average of 15.5 second-chance points per game.
It goes without saying that Phoenix caught a break not having to worry about Leonard, but one look at their defensive numbers and it's clear this series would be a lot closer with LA healthy. They may be up 3-1, but Phoenix is 9th in defensive efficiency rating this series which is the second-worst rating amongst teams currently winning their series.
The entire story after game one was about Russell Westbrook being washed up on the offensive end, but in reality, over the last two games, he has made a mockery of the Suns' defense. Westbrook’s ability to drive and get into the paint to either score or distribute has led LA to outscore Phoenix in the paint over the past two games.
The Clippers are currently listed at (+7.5) point underdogs in the first half tonight, and I’ll be taking them for my play in this one. LA’s backs are against the wall, and while some might expect them to just roll over, which is essentially what the line is suggesting, they are being led by a player in Russell Westbrook, who will never do that in his career.
I find it very hard to imagine Westbrook doesn't have LA come out aggressive tonight, and at least for the first half. I think they can stay in this game just like they have been during the past two games without Kawhi Leonard. It might be a 3-1 series, but both teams are dead even in 1H NET rating. Of course, Phoenix wants to end the series tonight at home, but their defensive struggles may make it difficult to go into halftime with a big lead.
The biggest lead the Suns have had going into half since Leonard has been out is three points, and in those two games, the Clippers have managed better effective field and true shooting percentages in the first half. Los Angeles has gotten 36.7% of their points from three in the first half of the last two games, and in the series, Phoenix is 10th in opponent 1H three-point percentage.
Los Angeles Clippers 1H (+7.5)